Archive for May, 2015

Dressings for a Variety of Salad Moods

Sunday, May 31st, 2015



Recently, reader David Calvo charged me with a salad dressing column, saying, “with summer near, (and so many) farmers market greens, and a bounty of vegetables, salad dressing can be the glue that sticks it all together!”

That’s a perfect way to say it.

But the salad category is almost infinite, starting with potato and ending in pasta, so I chose five dressings that would coat lettuces alone. A bowl of locally grown mizuna, curly green leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce, and handfuls of lemon balm and shiso from my garden was the basic canvas for my dressing trials. I wanted dressings that had enough flavor-packed “glue” to elevate leaves to something special, and to give people a roster of standby dressings they can turn to for any occasion.

Together this dressing collection represents a variety of salad moods: a light Asian themed dressing, a spare ingredient list but liberal flavor, would be delicious as a bed for Weeping Tiger marinated beef or simply beside a bowl of spicy peanut noodles. There is a classic Balsamic Dressing made a little more complex with the addition of Dijon mustard and walnut oil. There is a garlic-y cashew dressing with the heft of Caesar Salad dressing, but without the heaviness or – dare I say – predictability of the same old Caesar.  From my new cookbook, due out in weeks, there is a recipe from Rowley, MA for Bibb lettuces tossed in a warm bacon vinaigrette, a recipe that frames the classic Massachusetts spring moment when the first lettuces are ruffling in a stiff wind, and it’s too gray and damp outside to eat cold salad for dinner.

Calvo specifically asked for a homemade Red Pepper Dressing, which, after a couple of trials, I think I’ve found. This is the one dressing below that begs for a little more, so toss the greens amply in the cadmium-red dressing, sprinkle good quality feta cheese , some toasted walnuts, and it will taste like a deconstructed edition of the Turkish roasted red pepper and walnut spread, muhammara, an unusual but delicious dinner salad.

red pepper dressing



Most salad dressings are best used almost immediately after being mixed together, as the brightness fades over time. The cashew and avocado dressings here can be made ahead, but be sure to taste them for seasoning before using.

These salad dressings are excellent basics to have in the repertoire.   As David Calvo encourages, I entreat people to send their favorite salad dressing recipes, so the roster can be that much stronger; the possibilities are infinite!

Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette


1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons walnut oil

Instructions 1. In a small mixing bowl or large glass measuring cup, combine the vinegars with the mustard and salt, then whisk in the oils until emulsified.

Soy Sauce Vinaigrette


1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid Amino Acids

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil


1.  In a small bowl, or the bottom of the salad bowl you will be using, whisk together the soy sauce and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the sesame and canola or olive oils, and whisk until emulsified. If using the salad bowl, place the washed and dried greens on top, and toss well with the dressing. Otherwise pour dressing over greens and toss well.

Cashew Dressing


1/4 cup milk (or water if you prefer a vegan edition)

1/3 cup raw cashews

1 large garlic clove

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of 1/2 a large lemon

salt to taste

freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)


1.  Heat the milk or water in a saucepan or microwave. Put the cashews in a food processor, and process, adding the warm liquid, until the nuts become a fine puree. If mixture is too thick to dress a salad, add more milk or water. You want it the consistency of a Caesar Salad dressing.

2.  Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste for seasonings. Add cilantro if desired. This dressing can be made in advance, but taste it for seasonings before using. The acids tend to become less bright over time, so it will need more lemon juice.

Rowley Wilted Salad from In Cod We Trust, the Celebrated Cuisine of Coastal Massachusetts

3 slices good quality, nitrate-free bacon

8 cups Bibb lettuce, washed, dried well, and torn into 2” pieces

2 tablespoons chives

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar


1.  Cook bacon in a skillet until crispy. Drain bacon on paper towels when done, and set aside. Pour grease from bacon into a jar and reserve. Wipe clean the skillet. Toss lettuce leaves with chives in a salad bowl.

2.  Heat the skillet again, and return 3 tablespoons of bacon drippings to it. Add vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and whisk together. When the mixture is hot, pour over the greens and toss well. Serve immediately.

Roasted Red Pepper Dressing


2 fresh red bell peppers

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon maple syrup

salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil


1.  Preheat broiler. Set peppers on a foil lined baking sheet, and place below the broiler. Allow each side of the pepper to become blistered and black, turning the peppers with tongs as necessary. Once the peppers are completely blackened, remove from oven, and place either in a paper bag or under a bowl. This allows them to cool, and the steam to remove some of the skin.

2.  Once cool, run peppers under running water to remove all the black skin, and pat them very dry. Place peppers in the bowl of a food processor with the balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth paste. With the food processor running, drizzle in olive oil. Taste for seasonings.


roasted red pepper dressing salad

The Common Crow’s move – a little help, please?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Common Crow sign

The Common Crow, Cape Ann’s independent natural food grocer, is currently closeted into a magically tiny space on Elm St. in Gloucester. Shopping here is like shopping in a Harry Potter story; enter a simple set of glass doors, and a cosmos of local produce, organic dairy, bulk grains, a spice selection that rivals an Istanbul market place, teas, coffees, health supplements and all natural beauty products unfold as if into a space created by wizards. It’s jammed packed, and that includes jams. The personal contact required to open the dairy case while another shopper is choosing honey is its own kind of sport.

new building


But this grocery closet will soon be only something about which to reminisce, because the Common Crow is leaving Elm St. for a broad shouldered new building on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Pond Rd. in Gloucester. Traffic willing, Rockporters will be two minutes closer to a quart of local milk. The new Crow promises not just the groceries listed above but lots of parking, artwork, a little green space, and a cafe. Imagine, a place for a Rockporter to stop for a really good cup of dark roast before heading across the bridge to face the world. Meals to-go, I’m told, will be even more thoughtfully and deliciously produced.

Crow owners Pat Towler and Kate Noonan, in their commitment to providing honestly produced natural foods and health supplements, have created in the Common Crow not just a business but a culture. A bigger building means more of that healthful, healing Common Crow philosophy, and it may mean a nice place to meet a friend for a bowl of homemade soup.

All this is very expensive. The Crow has already invested – ouch – more than 1 million dollars to complete the new building and make the move. That’s a lot of money for a small business.

In order to raise the last of the funds, the Common Crow family is reaching out to the community. In an Indiegogo campaign, the Common Crow is asking Cape Anners to help them raise the last $50,000 needed to complete the cafe and expand the prepared foods section. The thanks for helping are rich, classic Common Crow: $50 rewards you with a cup of organic coffee or tea every Saturday for a year. For a $100 gift owner and founder Pat Towler will restock your kitchen pantry. A gift of $250 gives you a one hour personal shopping trip guided Pat Towler (Certified Herbalist) plus $100 worth wellness products. This reward also includes two tickets to the Common Crow Grand Opening Gala later this summer!

To read more about the Indiegogo campaign, the Crow-ish rewards, and to give, go to


crow prints

Cooking with the Mayor of Gloucester

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Sefatia 2


This food writer loves that Sefatia Romeo Theken is mayor of Gloucester because she loves to cook.

“I cook for therapy,” Theken says. “I’m either not cooking at all, or cooking up a storm; both mean I’m working really hard at my job!”

A glance at Mayor Theken’s facebook page shows as many photos of braising chicken thighs and fresh vegetable omelets as photo-ops with senators. She describes herself as a working woman, trying to cook regular meals for her family, trying to pack healthy, economical lunches to eat at her busy work desk. In many ways, Theken bridges the old world Sicilian Gloucester with the modern working woman in Gloucester.

“As a child I loved waking up to the smell of garlic and onions frying in oil; that was Sunday morning in Gloucester, and I knew my mother was making the zuggo,” the basic tomato sauce upon which so many Gloucester Sicilian dishes are built.

One recent Thursday morning, Theken, in dark sunglasses, shining auburn hair flying, strode into the mayor’s office. She’d already been to an early morning meeting presenting the new city budget, with heavy ink on the minus side for snow removal, to the City Councilors. Gloucester’s proactive stance for treating opiate addiction – inviting addicts into the police department to turn in their drugs and equipment, no convictions, immediately connecting them with “angels” who will help them get clean, free over-dose treatments available in Gloucester pharmacies, all paid for with drug-dealer retrieved dollars – was just about to hit the national press.

Theken wore a black sweater, a long string of gold and crystal beads looped from her neck, her dark Sicilian eyes glamorously made up. As she spoke to me about cooking and her family, Theken occasionally pulled a light shift around her, as if wrapping herself from the cold, an unconscious protective gesture that reminded this woman was not just mayor of the City of Gloucester, but a mother to three daughters, grandmother to four, and godmother to twenty-eight. Before being elected interim mayor, for eighteen years Theken worked as the community liason to Addison Gilbert Hospital, guiding the uninsured or under-supported through the manacles of health care. In that office Theken was so beloved her clients claimed if she ran for mayor they wouldn’t vote for her because they didn’t want to lose her. (Theken says they have since changed their minds.) Elected by City Councilors to replace Mayor Kirk until the next general election, Theken has not yet declared she is running. The granddaughter and widow of Gloucester fishermen, Theken still serves as vice president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, a position she’s had for twenty years.

“Zuggo,” a singular word from the Gloucester Sicilian community, isn’t gravy.

“Don’t ever call it gravy!” Theken warned. “Gravy” and “spaghetti and meatballs,” she explains, were born when Italian immigrants arrived in America, and needed to extend a meatloaf recipe to serve ten. The Italian arrivals added breadcrumbs to their meatloaf, which made the meat tough. To resolve the toughness they simmered the meatballs in tomato sauce. The sauce became known as “gravy,” and “spaghetti and meatballs,” a completely American phenomenon, was hatched.

In the Gloucester Sicilian community “Sunday meant pasta in Glosta!” Theken said. Sundays in Theken’s home still means two pots of simmering sauces. The first is the fundamental “zuggo,” Theken’s personal favorite, its simplicity so beloved it is almost biblical. (Theken sautes onions and garlic in olive oil, and adds four cans of crushed Pastene tomatoes, first processed in a blender. Simmer away.)

For the second sauce Theken adds meatballs and/or sausage to the zuggo, and one large potato cut into chunks. The last is Theken’s personal addition to a Sicilian basic; she loves the way the potato softens in the sauce, and binds the meat and tomato flavors. This sauce she gives away to her daughters, friends and family. Bob Whynott, City Councilor at large, regularly receives a gift of  Sefatia Meat Sauce.

Theken tries to grocery shop late in the evening because, as city mayor she would never make it through the store in regular shopping hours.

Like all seasoned cooks Theken has some wonderful kitchen tips, like processing those slipping cloves of garlic to a paste before they are completely un-useable, preserving them in olive oil, extending their life a week or so. It’s a gift to have a tablespoon of this ready to toss in a pan for an easy start to a quick weeknight meal. Add lemon juice and pepperoncini to the oil for an instant salad dressing.

Theken loves basil, but agrees that pesto can’t be used all the time. Instead, Theken preserves basil by finely chopping it, mixing it into a paste with olive oil, and salt and pepper, then freezing the paste. She will take out this mixture in the morning, bring home fresh fish in the evening, and toss the fish in the basil oil. Then she puts the fish in a baking dish, covers it with breadcrumbs, and bakes it – an easy, especially healthful weeknight dinner.

Here’s a Sefatia fish law: Anything ugly makes the best broth. Make stock from redfish, whiting, and monkfish, and then when you make a chowder or stew use the attractive but less flavorful fish like hake and haddock for the visible chunks; the broth will make all of it taste delicious.

“I love the tradition of waiting for things!” Theken shouts, almost leaving her chair with her signature passion. She’s referring to the days when meals were honestly determined by a food’s seasonality.

“In Gloucester the only dish we still wait for is the St. Joseph’s Day pasta, and that’s just because it’s such a pain to make.”

But the “Ricotta Man” helps keep patience alive. According to Theken, the Sicilian community has a friend in Detroit who comes four times a year with his fresh ricotta. He leaves his adored fresh curds and returns to Detroit with their fresh fish. Theken – and others – wait for the Ricotta Man to make this special pasta, one so simple – like so many well-balanced Italian dishes – its beauty depends on perfect ingredients: Saute six chopped cloves of garlic in olive oil just to soften. Do not allow to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Cook linguini as desired. Add three ladles of the pasta water to the garlic pan, to make a sauce. Drain the pasta but do not rinse. Add a pound of ricotta – the best quality you can find if you don’t know the man from Detroit – to the garlic and mix well. Add linguini and sauce to a large, warm bowl, and toss well, coating the pasta. Serve in warm bowls.

Leaning back in her deep mayoral chair, smiling softly, Theken says “I love the satisfaction of cooking for others,” an easy metaphor for this office.

I recently prepared this Theken recipe, and will be making it all summer long, well into September.


Sefatia's pasta 2


The premise is basic: a simple uncooked fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil sauce, but Theken’s edition has excellent tips: she grates six large beefsteak tomatoes into a bowl, and then grates a whole head of garlic over that.  Add chopped basil.  The sauce is unusually easy to prepare, but fabulously fragrant and lush. She says it’s also a wonderful sauce over grilled salmon or meats, especially lamb.

clean plate


The Mayor’s Fresh Tomato, Garlic and Basil Sauce

serves 4 for dinner


1 pound spaghetti or linguini (I used a long type of fusilli – from Virgillio’s – which was delicious.)

6 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes

1 whole head garlic

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup olive oil, or more to taste

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired


1.  On a wide-toothed grater, grate each of the tomatoes into a large bowl.

2.  Peel the head of garlic on the outside, getting rid of as much papery skin as possible, but keeping the head whole. On a smaller toothed grater, grate the whole head of garlic into the tomatoes. Add the basil, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, and let sit for at least 10 minutes. (Theken used no amounts, but I like the olive oil to show a bit of “sheen,” and for the tomatoes to have a “fat” taste of olive oil.)

3.  Cook the pasta according to the directions. (Ladle out 1/4 cup of the cooking water.) Drain, but do not rinse the pasta. Toss pasta into tomato mixture.  (I added the pasta water, and it seemed to work well, but Theken did not mention it. I think if your tomatoes are very ripe and seasonal you will not need to do this, but mine were a bit watery.)  Toss very well.

4.  Serve in bowls. I don’t think this pasta needs to be piping hot, particularly if served in the summer time. The flavors are actually better at room-temperature. Pass the Parmesan if desired.

grating garlic

Romantic Outlaws, the extraordinary lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelly

Saturday, May 9th, 2015


“Gordon’s style is warm and engaging and she has produced a fascinating and detailed analysis of two extraordinary women and how they lived their lives in a patriarchy as writers and reformers.”

“An impassioned dual biography…Gordon brings a rousing zeal to her pages…. She shows, in vivid detail, how mother influenced daughter, and how the daughter’s struggles mirrored the mother’s.”

“The relationship between Mary Shelley and the mother she never knew — Mary Wollstonecraft…is explored with remarkable insight and perspicacity in this exhilarating dual biography. …Gordon’s perceptive reading of both women’s published works illuminates their core ideas, including complementary critiques of patriarchy, and identifies the emotional fault lines caused by the drama in their lives. Her lucid prose and multifaceted appraisal of Wollstonecraft, Shelley, and their times make warm-blooded and fully fleshed-out people of writers who exist for readers today only as the literary works they left behind.”

“This excellent dual biography…examines the profound influence Wollstonecraft had on Shelley and the impact both women have had on women’s rights in succeeding generations. Gordon’s prose is compelling and her scholarship meticulous, her contention that both women led lives ‘as memorable as the words they left behind’ is brilliantly supported.”

“Charlotte Gordon has written a book about two women, a mother and her daughter, who changed not only the way we think, but the way we are…Skillfully entwining the story of two generations that spanned a century Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws enables readers to compare the different ways in which these two remarkable women confronted their tragically difficult destinies…[A] thoughtful, intelligent and deeply felt book.”

“The engrossing dual biography of the famous mother and daughter who never knew one another is told in alternating chapters so as to enable the reader to “hear the echo of Wollstonecraft in Shelley’s letters, journals and novels,” and to show how Wollstonecraft addressed herself to the future and to the daughter she planned to raise. Through this parallel portrait, Gordon shows how both mother and daughter attempted to free themselves from the stranglehold of polite society, while struggling to balance their need to be loved with their need for independence.”
The Bookseller

“A fascinating, thoughtful and continuously absorbing book, one to which I know I shall return on many future occasions”

“A new biography explores the outrageous lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley.”

“In Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Charlotte Gordon interleaves the experiences of mother and daughter in alternating chapters. The result is an innovative dual biography that foregrounds the writing of two women who disregarded the moral codes of their eras and shaped their own destinies. Gordon’s parallel mapping of their lives reveals fascinating similarities in the ways writing sustained, and sometimes saved, them both.”

“An excellent and poignant book whose heroines breathe in its pages…”

“A most welcome deeper take on the women who scandalized Victorian England — and whose stories continue to resonate today.”

“Mother and daughter shadow and reveal each other. The retelling emphasizes the extent to which Shelley’s life was shaped by her mother’s legacy but here is underlined in thought-provoking ways… In Gordon’s narrative, [Wollstonecraft and Shelley] appear at their best and bravest.”

“Wordsworth and Byron must step aside
to make room for two brilliant women,
Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter
Mary Shelley, early and late Romantics
whose remarkable contributions to their
time and ours lend Gordon’s artfully
twined tale special significance.”
—MEGAN MARSHALL, Pulitzer Prize-winning
author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life 
and The Peabody Sisters



The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook

Saturday, May 9th, 2015


Homegrown Paleo

I present the wedding gift of the season: Diana Rodger’s Homegrown Paleo Cookbook. For newlyweds scheming new lives together gathering eggs from their own hens, brushing the dirt from their freshly dug beets, even milking that mooing Jersey in their dairy barn, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook offers enough sound advice on homesteading 2015-style to probably get a farmhouse up and going. But, even if a young couple wants to keep bee-keeping to just a Pinterest board, the book has dozens of great recipes with Instagram good taste.

Diana Rodgers has been an earnest advocate of the Paleo lifestyle for years, selling us on the kind of low-glycemic nutrition that homegrown vegetables and grass-fed beef can provide, but do not consider this cookbook only for someone reducing carbs. These seasonal recipes are just the right mix of luscious and practical, like “Red Curry Mussels with Ginger and Cilantro,” one of the easiest suppers you will ever make, and yet one worthy of a special night by the fire.


The reading is lovely, including lessons on spiral slicers, sheep shearing (and everything else about raising sheep), soapmaking, and making stocks. Rodgers includes tips on producing Kombucha, Kefir, and clambakes. She tells you why to not eat farmed fish, why you should eat lard from pasture-raised pork. (It’s loaded with vitamin D, and makes the best piecrust.) She gives all-around instructions on raising bees, chickens, cows, goats, pigs, rabbits, and sheep. She explains gardens, foraging, fishing, and just healthy living: “Stay active…Get enough rest… Enjoy nature and free play…Spend money wisely…Find personal fulfillment.”

I would add to that list, buy this book.


mussels with wine


Red Curry Mussels with Ginger and Cilantro from The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook, by Diana Rodgers


1 pound mussels

1 cup homemade fish stock or chicken stock

1 cup canned, ful-fat coconut milk

2 teaspoons Tai red curry paste

1 teaspoon Sriracha (all-natural), or more, according to taste

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon coconut aminos or wheat-free tamari

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish


1.  Rinse the mussels under cool water and remove the beards, if any.  Set aside.

2.  In a large pot, combine the stock, coconut milk, curry paste, Sriracha, ginger, and coconut amines and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to mix well.

3.  Once the mixture is simmering, add the mussels and cover the pot.  Cook for 5 minutes, or until all of the shells open.  You may have a few that don’t open; this means they’re dead and should be tossed out.

4.  Transfer the mussels to a platter or individual shallow bowls and ladle some of the cooking liquid over the top.  Garnish with the cilantro.

5.  When you’re done, compost the shells or feed them to your chickens – they love picking at the shells!